Just months after we published our first news stories in August 2015, we tried something new: we listed and published brief biographies of the state’s 28 Most Influential Black Leaders. People really liked it, shared it on social media, told us who else should have been on that list. Many asked me if we’d do another list the next year; I said yes, we probably would. Good luck, they said … you’re going to run out of names.
Today, we publish the first installment of our eighth annual list of Wisconsin’s Most Influential Black leaders. You may have noticed … there’s a lot more than 28. In fact, we received more than 200 nominations for this year’s list. Clearly, there are many, many Black leaders doing real work in our communities.
And that’s what this list is all about. introducing you to those people you may not know. Every year, I’ve intended these lists to highlight the beauty of the diversity across our state. I want kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for people of color to achieve great things here.
This week we shine a statewide spotlight on the dedicated leaders of Wisconsin’s Black communty. The people we highlight this week are elected leaders, business leaders and community leaders, doing difficult, important work, often in the face of discrimination and literally generations of oppression.
We are also aware that this list, like every other, is not comprehensive. It’s obvious just from the number of nominations that there are far more than 52 influential Black leaders doing good work in Wisconsin. We hope you will let us know about people in your community who we can include on future lists. For now, though, we just want to introduce you to a few of the people doing the work, often behind the scenes and without the accolades, across Wisconsin.
You might know a few of these names, but there’s a good chance that most of them will be new to you. I urge you to get to know them. Reach out to those living and working in your communities. Learn from them, network, create partnerships. And spread the word — let others in your network know that we have people of all ethnicities living and working across Wisconsin to make sure everyone here can thrive.
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This is the first of a five-part series.
Cainan Davenport, also known as K the Barber, is the co-owner of Taperz, a family-oriented barbershop in Appleton. He is also founder of People of Progression, an organization working to bridge the gap of racial inequities. The organization works for the collective liberation of African Americans by empowering families with the tools, training, and supportive resources. They have also hosted a number of community-building events and COVID vaccine clinics.
Michelle Hendrix-Nora is principal of McNeel Intermediate School in Beloit. In 2018, responding to data showing alarming African American achievement and behavior disparities, she helped create the Lancer H.E.A.R.T.S (Helping Educate At-Risk Teenage Students) mentoring program. That effort, among others, earned her a YWCA Racial Justice Award in 2021.
Willie Jude is vice chancellor for advancement at UW-Parkside, a role he took on in March 2021. Before coming to Kenosha, he served as vice president for student affairs and associate vice president for institutional advancement at Fisk University. In previous roles as executive director of philanthropy at Lincoln University and as associate athletics director for advancement at North Carolina Central University, Jude led staff, volunteers and the campus community in raising funds and creating partnerships to advance student success. He is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, and holds a bachelor of science from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a master of education from Washington State University.
Angela Fitzgerald Ward is the host of Wisconsin Life on PBS Wisconsin, as well as the limited series Why Race Matters. In addition to her work hosting the television series, Angela is the Associate Dean for the School of Academic Advancement at Madison College. Previously she worked as Director of Family, Youth & Community Engagement for the Madison Metropolitan School District. She is also pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is studying the intersection between education, organizing, and research as it relates to improving outcomes for historically marginalized groups.
Will Green is the executive director of Mentoring Positives, an organization he cofounded in 2004 to provide opportunities and support for young people in Madison’s Darbo-Worthington neighborhood. Through their Off the Block program, they provide food service job training and experience and raise funds for additional programming. He is also head coach of the Madison La Follette High School girls’ basketball program and previously served as director of the Darbo Salvation Army Community Center. He played college basketball at UW-Eau Claire, where he was named team MVP.
David Bowles is president of Milwaukee-based CMRIgnite, one of the nation’s leading minority-owned social impact and cause marketing agencies. He’s worked his way up to the top over the course of 12 years, after joining the company in 2010 as director of business development. He attended Columbia University in New York, where he was president of the Chi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity.
Jakeim Jackson-Bell is the first person to lead Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the Milwaukee Bucks as the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Outreach Manager. Prior to joining the Milwaukee Bucks, Jakeim worked in Human Resources for the Atlanta Hawks, Samsung Electronics, Parkland Hospital, and American Airlines. He is a People & Culture Game Changer who has been proactive in driving the importance of mental health & authenticty, mentoring youth, developing robust programs to reduce employment barriers, and building diverse talent pipelines to provide opportunities for women, people of color, Veterans, and individuals with disabilities. In 2020 Jakeim made HBCU Buzz’s Top 30 Under 30 list and was inducted into 100 Black Men of Greater Milwaukee in 2021. Jakeim serves in numerous leadership roles in Milwaukee such as Employ Milwaukee Board of Directors, Independence First Board of Directors, Black Sports Professionals – Milwaukee Chapter Co-Vice President, Milwaukee County Business Advisory Council, Diversity Leadership Society – United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha, and Marquette University CMHC-CRC Advisory Board. He earned his BBA in Human Resource Management from The University of Texas at San Antonio and his MBA from Texas Southern University.
Supreme Moore Omokunde represents Milwaukee’s north side in the State Assembly. He was first elected to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors in 2015, and re-elected in 2016 and 2018. He was first elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in November 2020. Supreme Moore Omokunde has received training in community leadership through the national AmeriCorps program, Public Allies, the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Riverwest Neighborhood Association, and served on the board of directors for TRUE Skool. Prior to joining the Milwaukee County Board, he served as the community organizer for the Sherman Park Community Association where he worked with block clubs, established the Friends of Sherman Park group and helped to formulate a Neighborhood Improvement District. He is the son of Rev. Dr. Tolokun Omokunde and Congresswoman Gwen Moore.
Dr. Danyelle Wright is in her third year at Cottage Grove School as Building Principal with prior administrative experience with the Madison Metropolitan School District. She received her Ph.D from UW Madison in the Education Leadership Policy Analysis (ELPA) department in May of 2022. Dr. Wright has been in the field of education for over 12 years as an educational assistant, teacher, teacher leader, dean, assistant principal and principal. She also has experience in higher education and was an adjunct professor at Edgewood College in Madison. Dr. Wright is dedicated to the field of education and desires to not only be a leader within the field of education but desires to empower other women and women of color to get into education and leadership roles.
Ali Muldrow is president of the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education and co-executive director of GSAFE, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ students in Madison schools. First elected to the school board in 2019, she helped guide the district through the COVID-19 pandemic and the hiring of a new superintendent. She developed the curriculum for and facilitated Foundations of Leadership, a course based on the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth of color that helps Madison high school students develop their capacities as leaders and earn Advanced Learning credit. In the spring of 2015, she launched GSAFE’s New Narrative Project in the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center, to provide incarcerated young people with clear channels to academic success, civic engagement, and self-determination.
Part 2 coming tomorrow!